(Previous post: Acquisition/Learning)

The next post in this series (#5/9), The Input Hypothesis, is found here.


N: The Natural Order of Acquisition Hypothesis

“Students acquire elements of grammar in a predictable order that is unaffected by teaching.”

Stephen Krashen and other researchers contend that the order of acquisition is a natural feature of the human brain. It cannot be altered or rushed. The ability to recognize and produce certain aspects of grammar, and much of the accompanying vocabulary, unfolds as students are exposed to comprehensible input.

The natural order of acquisition is not the teaching order. It is useful as a guide in setting expectations, but it is not a blueprint for teaching.

Every student is at a different stage of acquisition, so attempting to structure a grammatical syllabus based on the natural order of acquisition is frustrating and nearly futile.


* Differentiate your instruction. Every class is a multi-level class. Realize that students are acquiring language at different rates. They do not all progress in lock step with one another. They acquire pieces here and there as they are ready. The order is somewhat predictable but the timing is not.

* Limit error correction. Error correction does not work. Recognize that error correction is mostly futile. Time is better spent giving more comprehensible input. http://www.brycehedstrom.com/2017/the-futility-of-error-correction-2

* Vary the input. Keep the natural order of acquisition in mind but do not attempt to precisely mimic it in your syllabus. Instead, vary the input so that those that are ready can catch what they need and progress in the language at their own rate.

* Focus on high frequency vocabulary. The most commonly used words will be the most useful. 65% of all communication in most languages is accomplished with the 100 most common words. There are frequency lists for every language. http://www.brycehedstrom.com/wp-content/uploads/High-Frequency-Verbs.pdf

* Provide opportunities for students to progress at their own pace.

Free Voluntary Reading  (FVR) is an effective way to accomplish this. https://www.amazon.com/Free-Voluntary-Reading-Stephen-Krashen/dp/1598848445/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

* Keep the input interesting and comprehensible so that student acquisition can unfold as each student is ready to acquire it. If we can keep their attention and keep them involved students will acquire what they can when they are ready.

* Spiral the curriculum. We must go back and revisit certain aspects of language again and again as we progress. Students are not at the same point in their acquisition. Everyone has gaps in what they know and can do. No one gets all of the grammar and vocabulary the first time through, or even after several times through. This is natural in language acquisition. Think of the native English speakers you know that cannot use “eaten” or “written” correctly, or those that confuse “its” and “it’s”.

* Allow the Natural Order of Acquisition to Guide Your Expectations. Many of the of the standard curricula for beginning language classes are actually late acquired when it comes to spontaneous, unrehearsed speaking. Some mind-bending, counter-intuitive examples in Spanish:

–Applying the difference between ser and estar  is late acquired. The difference seems easy to explain, but the nuances can be subtle.

–Using definite articles (el, la, los & las = the) correctly is one of the last items to be acquired, even though they are high frequency and seemingly simple to understand grammatically. Both el and la are listed as the most frequently used word(s) in the Spanish language in Mark Davies A Frequency Dictionary of Spanish (available in many other languages, including French, and Chinese)Students see and hear these words all the time and they understand what they mean. Plus, the explanation seems simple: el is singular masculine, la is singular feminine, los is plural masculine, and las is plural feminine. Got it kids? OK, test tomorrow!

NO! It isn’t that easy in the human brain.


The next post in this series (#5/9), The Input Hypothesis, is found here.
NOTE: This is a series on Stephen Krashen’s main hypotheses of language acquisition presented in a simple form. I teach these ideas in this same way to my high school students. We even have quizzes on each of the hypotheses. It helps students to know something about linguistics so that they understand WHY certain methods are being used in class—that the teacher is not just making up activities, that what is being done in the classroom has a basis in theory, research, and successful practice. I also want to prepare them to be able to identify best practices in language courses they may take later.
We use the acronym MANIAC to remember the hypotheses because a teacher needs to focus like a maniac in order not to be swayed by inertia in education and tradition in schools. And don’t worry about the “maniac” moniker, you’ll get maniacal energy from engaged and acquiring students once you learn how to put these hypotheses into action.